Alumnus Builds on CU Engineering Degree to Become Leading Attorney for Tech Industry

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Vern Norviel

Chemical Engineering

When he wasn’t slaving over books and experiments in the Engineering Center at CU-Boulder, Vern Norviel could be found painting in the fine arts building or playing the pipe organ at Macky Auditorium.  That was 20 years ago. Today, you’ll find him in the heart of the Silicon Valley, working at the leading edge of DNA chip technology.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1981, he worked on Chevron’s offshore drilling platforms and then went to law school at the University of San Francisco.  He earned his law degree in 1985 and joined Townsend & Townsend, the leading intellectual property firm in the Silicon Valley.  He worked with numerous start-up companies in the software and biotechnology industries, while continuing his education with a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Santa Clara.

“Then I joined Affymetrix because I thought it would change the world,” he says. The publicly traded, worldwide company where he served as senior vice president and general counsel, develops DNA chip technology for use in biomedical research, genomics and clinical diagnostics.  Affymetrix’s GeneChip system helps researchers in their quest to analyze genetic information that can improve the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of diseases such as cancer and HIV.

Gravitating toward small companies, however, Vern left Affymetrix in 2001 to join Perlegen Sciences, a new start-up company in Mountain View, Calif.  The company, which was able to raise $100 million in its first round of private fundraising, is using the most advanced DNA chip technology to expand knowledge of the human genome by developing information on how humans differ and which genes account for certain conditions or diseases.

Today, Norviel is the lead attorney with the patents and innovations counseling group at the Palo Alto law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. He is a member of the American Bar Association and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He also teaches at the University of Santa Clara Law School and serves on the Engineering Advisory Council at CU-Boulder.

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